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Contemporary Slovene Literature

By Flis, Lea | Contemporary Review, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Contemporary Slovene Literature

Flis, Lea, Contemporary Review

IF THE name Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital sounds exotic and foreign, and if keeping Slovenia and Slovakia apart seems a somewhat formidable task, one should not get so discouraged as to disregard the literary activity of Slovenia, a country that, for a long time, lived with the stigma of being the Terra Incognita of Central Europe.

In 1905, when moving to Italy, the great James Joyce himself got off the train in Ljubljana, thinking he had already arrived in the Northeastern Italian city of Trieste. This story became legendary and it might on occasion assume the function of a kind of comforting pillow for those who don't feel too confident about their geographical, as well as historical background. At least in those days both cities were part of the Habsburg Empire.

The reference to Joyce may in fact be apt, when discussing Slovenia's contemporary literature. There are parallels between our tiny population of two million and that of Joyce's Ireland. We too are a nation who has struggled for independence, and who has always, despite hardships, managed to find hope through the written word.

Is there a potential Nobel-prize winner for literature hidden somewhere in a shady corner of the proverbially sunny side of the Alps? That is, after all, how guide-books usually describe Slovenia. But are we really so brilliant? Sadly, the reality tells a different, a gloomier kind of story.

Contemporary Slovenian authors are, regrettably, not well represented on the international English-speaking book market. This is, to a large extent, the result of the fact that our nation did not have its full legal and political independence until 1991, the revolutionary year when the repressive and corrupt federation of Southern Slavs, Yugoslavia, finally cracked. And this long-anticipated event gave rise to Slovenia's independence--on more than one level. And new history began. Culture, literature and especially language, which have, throughout history, represented the strongest pillars of the fragile identity of our nation, were finally given wings.

It was predominantly Slovenian poetry that has long played the leading role in the revolutionary poetic movement. Therefore it deserves to be discussed first.

In the attempt to describe the contemporary poetic development, one must recall the name France Preseren (1800-1849), the leading representative of Romanticism, a poet who, with his breathtaking and artistically perfected poetry--especially love sonnets--revolutionised Slovenian poetry by introducing a number of Romantic forms. He is legitimately called the father of modern Slovenian poetry. His poetry truly encompasses the entire universe. His sonnets, stanzas, tercets, romances, gazelles, epigrams and ballads, all these poetic forms, in one way or another, imply the idea of freedom, either freedom on a very individualistic level or a freedom desired by all the enslaved nations. Not only are his poems universal in their ideas, they also epitomise our nation's specific, unrelentless pursuit of spiritual and political liberation.

If melancholia seems, to some extent, the prevailing ailment in Preseren's poetry, as well as in the poetic creations of some of his descendants (especially the representatives of the group of writers who created their major works in the period between 1899 and 1918, predominantly belonging to the literary movement known as 'the New Romanticism'--Dragotin Kette, Josip Murn, Ivan Cankar and Oton Zupancic), a whole new generation of literary artists, whose works were free of the sentiments of repressive external subjugation and, consequently, melancholia emerged some decades later. Threats of tyranny and censorship no longer smothered them.

Poetry anticipating a better, freer future is typical for the work of Tomaz Salamun (1941), whose truly groundbreaking poetic creations enable us to call him one of leading Central European avant-garde poets. He began his creation in the nineteen sixties and was, at some point, even treated as an outcast and a dissident.

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